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By FRANK BUMB
HICKORY DAILY RECORD

 Two of Catawba County Economic Corporation's long-term projects gained significant traction in recent weeks.

EDC President Scott Millar said at the EDC's Jan. 20 meeting the Catawba County Property Development Corporation purchased the eventual home of Lenoir-Rhyne University's health sciences center.

Millar also said the oversight committee for the 1764 business park has its initial member list.

"We've made a lot of progress, and we're excited for these developments," Millar said.

The city of Hickory, Catawba County, the CCEDC, Catawba County Valley Medical Center and Frye Regional Medical Center have all partnered to bring a health sciences center to Hickory.  That center now officially has its future home.

As part of the partnership, the CCEDC purchased the building at 844 Highland Ave. SE for $700,000. The building, with 10,287 square feet on its main floor, will be leased by LRU for five years and then sold to LRU for $1. But the physician assistant program is just the tip of the health sciences center iceberg.

"The physician's assistant's program is moving forward," Millar said. "And it's my understanding that (LRU) has already begun the process of analyzing what I'm going to call 'Phase 2' projects."

Peter Kendall, LRU's vice president for administration and finance, said previously the university will undertake feasibility studies for numerous programs and implement as the university grows its health sciences center.

"The other programs we've discussed are a doctorate of pharmacy, a physical therapy program, potentially and optometry program and perhaps a nurse practitioner program," Kendall said. "The ultimate goal, and this would be a number of years down the road, would be to have a doctorate of osteopathic medicine ptrogram." 

A doctorate of osteopathic medicine would be a huge win for Hickory, Millar said.

"And that would be the créme de la créme," Millar said.

While those programs are further down the road than the physician assistant program — which is scheduled to begin January 2016 — Millar said Hickory residents should take heart at early signs from LRU.

"What's interesting is my understanding that the upfits (LRU) are planning are about $1.2 million in improvements," Millar said. "So that makes me feel a little more comfortable. They are certainly going after this project with a lot of intensity."

Another partnership between Catawba County, the city of Hickory and the EDC is moving along.

The 1764 business park oversight committee, one of the projects that will receive funds from the city's $40 million bond referendum, has its initial membership list.

"The public officials would be the (Hickory) mayor, county commission chair and the manager of both participating entities," Millar said. "Plus the EDC president and chair. So right now that would be Mick Berry, Rudy Wright, Randy Isenhower, Tom Lundy, myself and Ellie Bradshaw. We're trying to figure out what other members we would want to include."

The oversight committee will handle the 1764 business park while the bond implementation committee -- selected by Hickory City Council and its boards and commissions -- will handle the river walk, city walk, streetscape improvements and other bond projects.

Millar said there were a variety of reasons the 1764 business park was placed outside the bond implementation committee's purview.

"One of the more important reasons is that (the business park) is not just city bond money," he said. "Its 50-50 between the city and county."

While the committee will serve as oversight, decisions on how to spend public resources will still be made by the county commissioners and city council.

"The reality is that the group will not have any resources. Both entities will have to be approached for any money to be shared," Millar said.

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